It was Wednesday, October 2, 1861 in old De Pere¹, when John D. Putnam enlisted in the War of the Rebellion, what would later be known as the Civil War. Less than a year later during the Battle of Shiloh (in Tennessee), Putnam was shot by rebel forces and killed. He died at the foot of an oak tree prompting his fellow soldiers to carve his name and unit into the base of that tree. The tree eventually became a stump and later was replaced by a granite monument, made as a replica to the stump. The following is an excerpt of what transpired…
Story of the Putnam Stump on Shiloh Battlefield at Pittsburg Landing, Tenn.
J. D. Putnam, a member of Company F. Fourteenth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, was killed April 7, 1862, during a charge of his regiment made upon a rebel battery, and was buried where he fell by his company comrades, at the foot of a young oak tree.
Thomas Steele [also from De Pere], one of the burying party, suggested Putnam’s name should be cut into the tree sufficiently low down so that in case the tree was chopped down later on the name should still remain to tell who was there at rest. This suggestion was carried out.
When the Government established a National Cemetery at Pittsburg Landing, Putnam’s body was removed thereto, and his grave in the National Cemetery is, owing to these precautions taken by his comrades in 1862, one of the few bearing full name, company and regiment.
When the Wisconsin Shiloh Monument Commissioners in 1901, visited the battlefield to select a site for the State monument, it was found that the tree had years ago been chopped down, but the stump remained, and though very badly decayed by age, the name of Putnam, cut into the tree in 1862 by his comrades, was still legible. Thomas Steele, who was with the Commission, expressed desire to have that portion of the stump which bore the inscription given to him. After consultation, the National Park Commissioners granted the request, and the portion bearing the inscription was sent to Thomas Steele, who fortunately had it photographed and then forwarded the slab to G.A.R. Memorial Hall, then located in the Capitol in Madison, to be there preserved as a relic. A poor place it proved to be. It was destroyed in the Capitol fire.
The Wisconsin Shiloh Monument Commissioners resolved to mark the spot, because of its absolute and indisputable correctness at to the position of the Fourteenth Regiment at a certain time of day, and further decided to reproduce the original stump in granite, placing thereon the name, company and regiment of Putnam, as cut into the tree by his comrades, and on the reverse side the legend relating the incidents connected therewith. The Photograph of the stump in the hands of Captain F. H. Magdeburg, president of the Wisconsin Shiloh Monument Commission, was, with a pencil sketch of the balance of the stump made by the park engineer of the National Commission, sent to Joseph Newall & Co., at Westerly, R. I., who were enabled therefrom to reproduce an exact fac simile of the stump as found by the Wisconsin Shiloh Monument Commissioners while visiting the battlefield in 1901.
The granite fac simile was put in position on April 7, 1906, on a concrete foundation placed by the Park Commissioners, on the identical spot from whence the original stump was removed in order to allow the fac simile to be placed.excerpt from “Wisconsin at Shiloh : Report of the Commission” ²
Putnam’s murderer was gunned down by Dennis Murphy³ (of Green Bay). John died at 40 years old. Family records show, he had one son, Robert⁴.
Today the Putnam stump not only represents a fallen private but rather his entire company in which he served. It stands as a reminder of the one time resting place of De Pere’s J. D. Putnam.
¹ Roster of Wisconsin volunteers, war of the rebellion, 1861-1865
published 1886, page 789
² Wisconsin at Shiloh : Report on the Commission published 1909, page 28
³ A Wisconsin Boy in Dixie : Civil War Letters of James K. Newton
published 1961, page 16
⁴ Recollections of Anna Bissell McCay
published 1938, page 127